Kelley and Krannert business schools partner to help IU Health manage surge of COVID-19 patients

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Faculty at two of Indiana's leading business schools -- Indiana and Purdue universities -- are collaborating on a project with IU Health to help the health care provider manage the COVID-19 demand surge in their 16 hospitals across five regions of the state.

The interdisciplinary team of professors at IU's Kelley School of Business and Purdue's Krannert School of Management has been working since March 23 to develop a predictive model of the resources required for an adequate response to the pandemic. It integrates disease prediction with a sophisticated patient flow workload model.

Team co-leaders Jonathan Helm, associate professor of operations and decision technologies and Grant Thornton Scholar at Kelley, said many models for COVID-19 lack the details needed for hospitals to do operational planning.

"A lot of models out there that predict the number of ICUs and ventilators you're going to need really are back-of-the-envelope calculations," Helm said. "For example, patient resource requirements in Indianapolis look different from those for patients in Lafayette and Bloomington. These regions have different types of hospitals and different demographics of people they serve, and different population densities, all of which contribute to COVID-19 care resource requirements.

"We are creating a learning model of how the patients in each region of Indiana are being affected and how they differ from those in the national model."

"In my role, I led the patient flow workload team to develop a model of how COVID-19 patients move around the hospital and what resources they use during their stay, such as medical/surgical and ICU beds, ventilators and ECMOs, nurse staff, and PPE," added Pengyi Shi, assistant professor of supply chain and operations management at Krannert. "I developed a model based on a queueing network and programmed it in Excel, with easily modifiable parameters for practitioners to evaluate different potential scenarios and operational interventions."

Helm and four others in Kelley's Department of Operations and Decision Technologies developed a SEIR disease progression model, which aims to predict when surges of COVID-19 patients might take place around the state. The acronym stands for how people in the model are grouped into phases of the disease: susceptibility, exposure, infection and recovery.

Combining this with Shi's workload model has allowed IU Health to predict the impact of operational measures that could be activated as part of a COVID-19 surge plan. Examples include canceling elective surgeries, transforming ambulatory surgery rooms into ICUs, modifying staff plans and schedules, leveraging the flexible "float" nurse pool to move nurses to where staff is most needed, shipping ventilators between regions, preparing for pharmacy loads, and setting up temporary hospitals.

The team worked day and night due to the urgency of the situation and is now providing weekly updates to IU Health, as the model is able to learn and improve from the evolving new data about COVID-19 patients.

The team also is exploring the possibility of having the tool deployed statewide beyond IU Health.

Others involved in the project, co-led by Kelley senior lecturer Aaron Perry, include Rodney Parker, an associate professor in the Kelley School; Christopher Chen, an assistant professor in the school; and Jeff Lim, a Kelley School senior who serves as a teaching assistant at the school and at the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. Kosali Simon, a Herman B Wells Endowed Professor in the IU O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and associate vice provost for health sciences at IU Bloomington, supported the team in locating resources and connecting faculty.

They coordinated with Troy Tinsley, IU Health's director of workforce strategy and operational excellence.

"One reason we were able to respond so quickly and develop this team was because of our Center for the Business of Life Sciences, where many of our faculty fellows have an expertise in health care," said Idalene "Idie" Kesner, dean of the Kelley School and the Frank P. Popoff Chair of Strategic Management. "This effort shows the incredible talent and hardworking nature of our faculty, and it also shows how Hoosiers come together from across the state for the benefit of the Indiana community."

David Hummels, the Dr. Samuel R. Allen Dean of the Krannert School, serves on the board for the West Central Region of IU Health. He praised the effort and collaborative approach by Shi and those at Kelley. 

"The rapid adjustments that have been made throughout the IU Health system in order to accommodate patient surge have been nothing short of astonishing," he said. "This is one of the times where they have to try many new things, very quickly, and put an enormous amount of trust in expertise that new systems are going to work."

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